Here in the online HIV/AIDS community, it's hard to remember a time when Rae Lewis-Thornton wasn't the social media maven she is today. But believe it or not, she was resistant to blogging and tweeting at first. Now she has thousands of loyal followers and readers, and considers social media work to be an essential part of her activism. "I've taken this social thing, and made it for a socially conscious cause," she says; "And it has reinvented me." Watch the other videos in this series.
Talk to me about how you use social media as an extension of your activism.
You know, I went to social media kicking and screaming. My 30-year-old BFF was, like, "You're getting on Facebook; you're getting on Twitter -- whether you want to or not." And I did it. And in a year and a half I have done really good stuff.
You know, I didn't think I could write. And that's stupid, given the fact that I graduated from college magna cum laude, given the fact that I went to graduate school, on a merit scholarship, given the fact that . . . yeah; I mean, it's all this work. But when I lost my book deal at Hyperion the editor said that it was incredibly poorly written, my memoir. And so I didn't believe that I could write.
I started writing. I started to tell my story. People would make these incredible comments. And I'm, like, "Can I write, for real?" Someone sent me an email this week that said, "I don't care if you wrote your memoir on toilet paper. I will buy it."
Social media has been, for me, an avenue to continue to do the work. My goal was simply to tell my story to as many people as I possibly can before I die. Social media has given me an opportunity to do that.
On Twitter, it's a day in the life of a diva living with AIDS. And so they get the early morning until I go to bed; and they get everything. The blogging: I try to give them bits and pieces of my life, what I'm doing. Or if I'm going to this event, I'll try to give them some of that. I try to give them my spiritual side on Mondays, with the Monday Reflections. And in between, I give them everything else, from sex to love.
It's been good. I get an enormous amount of e-mails. I get about 25,000 visits a month on my blog. I have 5,000 followers on Twitter; I have 9,500 friends on Facebook, with my two combined. And my social media clout is rising and rising and rising. And I'm doing these HIV tweet-ups. I've taken this social thing, and made it for a socially conscious cause. And it has reinvented me. It has introduced me to young people who had no idea who I was. It has reminded people who knew who I was, who thought I was dead and gone -- because I get those tweets: "I thought you was dead!" It has reinvented me, which, of course, then opens the avenue for more press, for more speaking engagements, possibly sponsorship. But the most important thing is the impact that you have. And so I get the DMs [direct messages] from the girls who say, "I made my boyfriend use a condom last night. You know, thank you." Or, "I went to get tested. Thank you." "You make me do better."
And it's not just about HIV. There are people who say to me, "You make me want to be better, to do better. If you can wake up every morning, no matter what it is, and be grateful for a day of life . . . I don't have AIDS; I can be grateful."
It's a phenomenal tool. And I think some of my peers, some of my friends, especially, didn't get it. I have a girlfriend whose husband will say, "Will you stop tweeting?"
I'm like, "You're a dentist. You go to work every day. No, I won't stop tweeting, because this is my work."
I'm one of the most name-recognizable black women in America with AIDS, and last year I didn't have a speaking engagement on World AIDS Day. You know what I did? I tweeted 1,500 tweets about HIV. Yeah, I was in Twitter jail, like, six, seven times. But I tweeted. So that was my speaking engagement.
So for me, I didn't quit doing the work, because the work was more important. And that's how I feel. I'm sticking by this. Paula Deen said a while back on Oprah's Life Class: "I did the work, and God blessed it."
That's what I think about my work in social media -- that God will bless the work if I just keep doing it. If it's not about being on TV; if it's not about the speaking engagements and the money I get, but it's about educating, it's about giving people hope, it will be blessed.
Kellee Terrell is the former news editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
Follow Kellee on Twitter: @kelleent.